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Pillow Pops: Shani Moran presents a softer side of bold

We throw the term ‘less is more’ around a lot these days, especially when it comes to improving our dwellings. While there is something liberating about clearing out accumulated clutter that no longer give us joy, South African-raised, Los Angeles-based interior designer Shani Moran insists everyone needs a few well-chosen “investment” accessories to personalize one’s surroundings and make things cozier. However, good investments—even when crafted with fine materials and an artistic vision—should not have to break the bank.

      This is one idea that makes her Pillow Pops line, available on her website and at Amazon, very alluring. As Moran sees it, there’s a certain luxury about changing your décor as effortlessly as you can do with outfits every season. Moran points out that when she and her team first developed the fabrics for Pillow Pops at specialized mills, they raised a lot eyebrows, especially from a merchandising point. Even when fielding some doubt on if the concept would work, she stood by her proposition that luxury home décor could be accessible without being ‘mass’.
      ‘If you look at the imagery that we have on the website, you’ll notice the backdrop—a neutral sofa—is the same, but the addition of different sets of pillows dramatically changes the atmosphere and personality of a space,’ she says as I scroll to look at such groupings as Untamed, Parisian, Garden Green and Scarlet Sentiments. ‘The message that I was trying to put across is that using simple but richly executed decorative items can create a huge impact. You should dress your home just like you dress yourself, personalizing your wardrobe basics with accessories that speak to your personality. This is more true than ever as we’ve spent more time in our homes in the past year, and whatever we bring into this space will impact how we feel about ourselves and our lives.’
      Although some still dress to impress others, she believes we’re re-emerging into a new normal where the most important person one should impress is herself. If this idea sounds like something a therapist would say, you’d be spot on as Moran is also an experienced psychologist. When creating something as personal as decorative items, it’s important to provide some justification as to why a customer should spend a little extra. Moran explains how her psychology background has opened her up to catering to customers with diverging tastes and life experiences, and why she offers both pillow collections and individual pillows.
      ‘There’s a lot involved in how individuals choose things for their homes and the wardrobe, which is why there’s a lot to consider when developing every pillow and pillow collection, from the feel of the fabric to the distinctiveness in the designs alone and when mixed with other. We think a lot about how we approach designing the fabric, what kind of threads do we want to incorporate into a specific pattern? Combining unexpected things that work is a big thing, as you’ll see that we have combinations such as chenilles or velvet on linens as well as velvets and chenilles, which is very unusual in the textile world. The process of creating Pillow Pops comes specifically from the complexity of the human mind, and the human mind has always intrigued me.’
      As more people look to transform their living spaces into sanctuaries, especially in a year where it has been challenging to travel, Pillow Pops can also be a way to “travel”, whether décor is intended to reflect one’s past or future travels. A comforting-yet-elegant room can also be an escape from whatever is in the headlines as well as a means to explore different cultures.
      ‘While I was born in Israel, growing up in Johannesburg exposed me to such a broad mixture of cultures, aromas, æsthetics and ideas, even just by travelling on the roads of Johannesburg en route to somewhere else,’ Moran says, looking back on what informed her entrepreneurial career path. ‘On one side of the road, you can see those beautiful villas, and on the other side you can see shacks. Everything that you see, smell and touch expands your mind and your heart to all walks of life. In my approach to design, I’m able to collect and merge together different elements and factors from varying design styles coming out of that beautiful salad of people and cultures.’
      Like many South African Jewish families during the apartheid years, Moran’s family were very conscientious of what was happening in society as a whole. Through everyday activities and bigger political gestures, they did what they could to change the political system and make their society more egalitarian as a whole, without compromising the myriad of cultures that gave their country its personality and identity. Moran says this upbringing, and the way her parents and relatives ran their businesses, formed the underpinnings of her company. She describes it as a belief system that can bring abundance to everyone while being creative.
      Her father was in textile design and development, supplying fabrics to all spheres of the industry, at every price. Being aware of what was available to her, in turn, provided an infrastructure to use ‘supreme quality fabrics’ to create an affordable way to make practically any space, anywhere in the world luxurious.
      ‘It’s personally fulfilling for me to make luxury accessible, and Pillow Pops comes from that desire to share that beauty with everyone. I want to empower people to truly own their space on a spiritual level when they make this kind of small investment not just for their homes but also in themselves and their well-being. And I’m also about empowering women, my customers and my employees, and the whole look all just came together.’
      Moran estimates that about 90 per cent of her staff are women. In addition to praising them for the creativity and collaboration they bring to the shop, she observes being surrounded by like-minded people in a workplace helps everybody involved strengthen their self-esteem—something that’s definitely a shared goal among good psychologists who care about those around them.
      ‘I am a leader in a sense that I like to create leaders around me,’ she explains. ‘In an operation like Pillow Pops, if we are going to put in the kind of investment needed to give it legs, it is not going to be a one-person show. The success of a business is based on its people, and the success of of our business is based on every single person who contributes towards it. Through the philosophy behind Pillow Pops and as a person of the Jewish faith, we are obliged to give a tenth of our profits to good causes, and I keep to that. As I grew up being exposed to the harshest of human conditions, poverty and abuse, its my absolute responsibility, and my team, to share our strength with those who need extra help. If we are born with an abundance of means or power in any in any particular way, we should share that strength with the world.’

      In addition to empowering her customers to shape their surroundings on their own terms, Moran also enjoys sharing her wisdom and insights with others who have their own vision on how they can share beauty with others as entrepreneurs.

Who are the designers, artists and business people who influenced you?
Our household in Johannesburg was eclectic, and that way of life, of course, leaves an imprint on you. While I have had many mentors and influences in a variety of fields beyond design and psychology, I remain influenced by African art, textile print and prints and æsthetics because of their bold shapes and colours. Images coming out of Africa have influenced everything I have done. Business-wise, I have been influenced first of all by my own father, who was an entrepreneur who had successes in a variety of industries from finance and diamonds to textiles. He exposed me and my siblings to a variety of different things throughout our lives. My father was always politically involved, and as a family, we supported the struggle against apartheid over the years.

What were the “a-ha” moments that prompted you to make the connection between psychology and interior design?
I think that interacting with human beings as a psychologist influences how I think and see my final products. In picking out the colours for the various Pillow Pops collections, we planned different lines thematically that in one way or another creates order within chaos.

Although Pillow Pops are high-end luxury décor pieces, why was it important to you to reach a customer base beyond the traditional affluent audience?
If you look at the [home design] industry as a whole, what separates us is how we set out to revolutionize home décor by giving every customer the ability to mix and match different textures and fabrics like velvet, vegan leathers, chenilles and jacquards [for a personalized look]. Even with unexpected mixes of materials, however, each grouping is approachable and harmonious to the eye because they are in the same colour family. Originally, when I designed the fabric to cover the pillows, I didn’t yet see them as collections. But then when I was sitting with all my fabrics surrounding me, I naturally gravitated into creating these colour-matching collections and then giving them a lot of depth.

If you’re considering starting a new business, what are the most effective ways to combine your existing skills with your vision, especially if your business model seems far removed from the skills you learned in college? 
I think that everybody makes their own luck in this world and should take responsibility for building their skills. From there, they need to do is connect to those ideas. The most important thing to for any women to realize is that if they want to create a business, they must have clarity about her idea and concept. It doesn’t mean that you have to know everything from A to Z. It just means that you have to have a clear vision overall and the steps just happen. You need to fight along the way, and you need to push. You need to be a warrior, and once you have clarity of what you want to create, are comfortable with it and have confidence in yourself, everything else will just fall into place. I know that it may sound odd, but when you believe in what you do and you bring your heart into it, what happens from there can be really magical.

What are some of your current philanthropic projects?
I’ve already started working on this beautiful collection inspired by the work of African artists, and while I don’t want to give too much away, and COVID delayed development somewhat, it will connect people from all walks of life. I can tell you that it will be a huge celebration of colour, patterns and culture. All these prints are coming from impoverished communities and from people who would otherwise would never be able to expose their art in the world. It has the potential to bring the art of people from forgotten places to light by giving them a stage to present … it through our art pillows anybody can display at home with pride.

How does working with celebrities and on high-profile projects like the Grammys bolster your efforts to connect with a wide variety of customers from all walks of life?
Celebrities are just people at the end of the day. And everybody wants to create beautiful spaces for themselves. I feel that those people who have the strength, power, and stage to bring goodness to the world in various forms of creativity are doing a great service as well as spreading joy. I feel that [celebrities] whom I’ve met and been blessed enough to work with on a personal level have not only inspired me but also fuelled me to continue to do what we’re doing.

As we come out of the pandemic, and many of us have redecorated our surroundings in one way or another, how will pillows in your current colour palettes not only perk up the room but also your state of mind and boost your productivity?
All of the redecorating and decluttering going on during COVID have provided so many people with the impetus to change up their environment, and by extension, their outlook on life. I believe every object carries some kind of energy, and removing items that are not providing good energy is a step in the right direction. Adding fewer, but more striking, items that harmonize together brings positivity and, perhaps, a sense of accomplishment. Then there is the energy our (employees and designers) bring to the creation of the pillows. As the pillows can be mixed and matched, decorating can be as much fun as taking the decorative souvenirs you’ve from your travels or life milestones, and pulling them together in a way that speaks to you and gives you a sense of accomplishment.


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